Croatia vs Australia

Our greatest ever result, but the nature of the game and the refereeing meant it was almost impossible to enjoy.

France 1998

Let's look back at the sixteenth World Cup, held in France in 1998 and won by France - their first win. France remain the latest country to win it for the first time.

In 1966, England won and Germany were runners-up. At the final whistle the scorer of the first goal in the final, Helmut Haller, picked up the ball and kept it. No big deal, no-one gave a second thought in those days to football memorabilia and its potential value. Haller gave the ball to his son for his fifth birthday. Over 20 years it was signed by Pele, Eusebio and other greats, but ended up languishing in Haller's cellar.

When England won the right to host the 1996 European Championships the magazine Total Football suggested the 1966 ball should 'come home'. This kicked of a massive campaign. The Sun and the Mirror battled it out for the scoop of getting the ball back. The bemused Hallers said they'd listen to offers. Eventually the Mirror, Eurostar and Richard Branson clinched a deal worth 70,000 pounds to Haller. After much subterfuge the Mirror got the money shot of Haller returning the ball to Geoff Hurst after smuggling Haller into the country. Miffed, the Sun demanded the Hallers give the money to charity, which the did - allegedly. The ball now resides at the National Football Museum at Preston North End's Deepdale ground. Sadly the precious autographs have faded because Richard Branson exposed the ball to full sunlight during the handover.

Scotland met Estonia in Estonia during the qualifying stages in a match set down for a 6:45pm kick-off. The Estonians rented floodlights from Finland. Scotland complained the lights were much shorter than normal and would dazzle the players. FIFA concurred and issued a directive at 9:00am on match day moving the kick-off forward to 3:00pm to avoid the need for lights. The Scottish fans were duly informed and arrived for the early kick-off along with their team and the referees. The Estonians failed to show. The referee awarded the match to Scotland as a forfeit. The Scottish fans were delighted.

The Estonians however had never officially accepted the new kick-off time. They were also concerned about being unable to provide security at such short notice and their fans being at work at kick-off time. So at 5:00pm the Estonian team duly arrived in their team bus along with their fans for a 6:45pm kick-off. They made their point by standing around, arms folded, waiting impatiently for Scotland to turn up.

FIFA now had a dilemma. Acting with their renowned speed and efficiency they came to a decision a month later. They decided the tie should be replayed on a neutral ground. Effectively, Scotland failed to win despite the opposition failing to turn up. The Scots eventually acceded to FIFA despite feeling they were being punished for something that was not their fault. The two sides finally did meet in Monaco a further three months later. Naturally Scotland were dire and were booed off their pitch by their fans in a 0-0 draw. Fortunately for FIFA they were spared a major backlash as Scotland eventually managed to qualify regardless.

The Maldives attempted to qualify for the first time. Given that 99.6 of the islands are officially classed as water and many children hone their football skills with a coconut, little was expected. Little was delivered as the Maldives lost all six of their qualifiers a compiled the worst ever for-and-against record of 0-59.

Princess Diana died from injuries sustained in a car-crash on August 31, 1997. The day of the funeral, Saturday September 6, was declared a national day of mourning by Prime Minister Tony Blair. All Premier League games were cancelled (along with race meetings and so on). Business closed until after the funeral, re-opening at 2:00pm. The Scottish FA however, decided it should be business as usual and that its World Cup qualifier against Belarus should go ahead. FIFA had been consulted and concurred provided the usual marks of respect (black arm bands, a minute's silence, etc) were observed. Eventually after a huge hullabaloo in the English Press the game was moved back a day to the Sunday, despite the observation that you could shop, visit themes parks, buy a Big Mac or purchase a lottery ticket, but not watch, play in or bet on a football match. Scotland won the rescheduled match 4-1.

After England's first match at the finals, an unremarkable 2-0 victory over Tunisia in Marseille, Glenn Hoddle and Alan Shearer were interviewed for TV. Curiously Hoddle was shown in full while Shearer's replies came from off camera. Turns out the producer had spotted the large Marseille sign behind Shearer. Shearer's head blocked the 'M' and the 'ille' was out of shot.

Hair-cuts featured a lot at WC 1998. There was Beckham's mohawk, Seaman's ponytail and Valderama's 'fro. Nigeria's Taribo West went for green pigtails and was rebuked by Nigeria's culture minister as promoting homosexuality for his trouble. Romania went all out though. The entire team went peroxide blond for their final group game (making life very difficult for commentators). Their goal keeper was unable to join in as he was bald and their coach shaved his head in moral support. Romania lost 0-1 and went home.


L has been learning some new social skills at pre-school. These centre around threatening to no longer be someone's friend if they don't do what L wants. This has been extended at home to threatening J that she will no longer be his sister.

A few days later it finally happened. Despite over three years of faithful service, hundreds of stories before bedtime, etc. etc. I am disowned. For requiring L to eat her vegetables, she has relinquished me. "I'm not your daughter any more." The unkindest cut of all.

BTW, I'm sure this is a girl thing. J never did this.

Brazil vs Australia

After spending a few unexpected days on top of our group table, anything seems possible. I elect to drive into our club pub to watch this match against one of the tournament favourites (although not in my view). Driving in, the news comes through that Croatia and Japan have played a 0-0 draw. This is awesome as a draw with Brazil would mean Croatia would have to beat us by a couple of goals to stop us progressing to the round of 16.

U.S.A. 1994

Let's look back at the fifteenth World Cup, held in the USA in 1994 and won by Brazil - their fourth win, the first nation to win it four times.

Football fans and critics were mostly united in their criticism of FIFA awarding the tournament to the USA, hardly a footballing nation. However, the football turned out okay and it's generally agreed it was a pretty good tournament. The attendance record is yet to be beaten.

Two things book-end the tournament - the opening ceremony and the Final. At the opening ceremony, Latino singer Jon Secada was supposed to be elevated to the stage on a rising trapdoor. Unfortunately it jammed, he stumbled, dislocated a shoulder and sang the national anthem with just his head and shoulders visible on stage. Oprah followed up by falling full-length as she dismounted the stage.

Top billing though went to Diana Ross. She was supposed to score from a penalty. Incredibly, despite a funnel-shaped guard of honour to guide her shot, she missed. The keeper still dived as choreographed and the goals still split asunder (supposedly parted by the ferocity of the shot).

At the other end of the tournament, Baggio shot high over the bar to gift Brazil the game in the first ever Final decided by a penalty shoot-out. To quote a British journalist: "The 15th World Cup ended exactly as it began - with a risible penalty miss by a highly paid and vastly overrated superstar."

Pakistan failed to qualify, but Farooq Aziz, once he obtained permission from his school's headmaster, became the youngest World Cup debutant at the age of 15 years, 4 months and 28 days. France and England also both failed to qualify.

80,000 fans turned up to watch a dead rubber between the USSR and Cameroon. They were rewarded with three records. Russia's Oleg Salenko became the first player to score five in a finals game. Cameroon's Roger Milla came on as a substitute and scored a consolation goal to claim two records: the oldest player ever to appear in a finals game and the obvious follow-up, the oldest player to score in a finals game.

This Little Piggy

Tinkerbell has modernised this nursery rhyme to begin:

This little piggy went to the super-market ...

Australia vs Japan

For many of us, our first ever finals match, as we weren't alive or don't remember 1974. Jamie and I had tickets to a special event at IMAX to watch the match on the big screen. And what a match it turned out to be.

We'd long known that we had to get off to a good start, ie. win this match, to have any chance of progressing to the Round of 16. Japan were our weakest opponents. We had to expect to lose to Brazil. And we didn't want to go into a match against Croatia needing a win.

Italy 1990

Let's look back at the fourteenth World Cup, held in Italy in 1990 and won by West Germany - their third win, the third nation to win it thrice.

Chile required a win against Brazil in their final qualifying game at the Maracana. Unfortunately for them Brazil scored in the 50th minute. As the Brazilian crowd began to celebrate, 24-year-old secretary, Rosemary de Mello, threw a flare onto the field. Chilean goalkeeper and captain Roberto Rojas fell dramatically to the ground clutching his face. Chilean players and officials surrounded him. He was soon taken off the field with blood pouring down his face.

Things looked grim for Brazil. Serious crowd disorder could result in an automatic forfeit. FIFA delegates went to the Chilean dressing room. Rojas couldn't carry on and the match was abandoned. But some Brazilians were suspicious. They flare hadn't landed that close to Rojas and the blood only arrived after a trainer attended to Rojas. A full FIFA investigation followed.

Rojas had cut himself deliberately with a scalpel to produce the blood. A false medical certificate had been issued by the team doctor. Rojas' jersey and gloves were destroyed to evade a forensic examination. Brazil were fined $30,000 for crowd disorder but awarded the game 2-0. Chile were fined $100,000, missed out on Italia 90 and were banned from USA 94 for good measure. Rosemary de Mello became a celebrity, worked as a PR agent for Brazil at Italia 90 and went on to appear in Playboy.

1990 marked Ireland's first appearance at the finals. They had appointed an Englishman, Big Jack Charlton, as their manager for the qualifiers. This was scandal enough, but when he started stretching the eligibility rules to the limit and scouring the English league for recruits it was too much for some. But when they won their last four qualifiers, Big Jack (now O'Charlton) became a national hero.

Ireland's first group game was against England. They held England for a comfortable 1-1 draw with Welsh-born Kevin Sheedy getting Ireland's goal. A 0-0 draw against Egypt followed. Then a late goal to snatch a draw against Holland saw Ireland qualify for the second round. Incredibly, they did so without winning a game. (Scottish fans looked on aghast.) They then beat Romania on penalties to earn a quarter-final against Italy, still not having won a game in regulation time. Eventually they went out to Italy 1-0.

They played five games, scored two goals and conceded three. Their captain, Mick McCarthy won the unofficial "dirtiest player of the tournament" award for 23 fouls in five games. A bronze status of Big Jack adorns the arrival lounge at Cork Airport. And not one of their 22-man squad that went to Italy was born in Ireland.

World Cup Finals 2006 - Almost

I gave a presentation on the World Cup today. It was very well attended and I received lots of good feedback. I spoke for about 90 minutes and included slides and video. Great fun.

With the World Cup due to kick-off tomorrow, I thought I should make a few predictions:

Mexico 1986

Let's look back at the thirteenth World Cup, held in Mexico in 1986 and won by Argentina - their second win, the fifth nation to win it twice.

In 1966 the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen (remember Pickles). At the time, the Brazilians loudly condemned the English, saying such a thing could never happen in Brazil as Brazilian thieves would never stoop so low. You know where this is going don't you. After securing the trophy forever with their third win in 1970, the trophy was on permanent display at the Brazilian FA in Rio de Janeiro. That is, until December 23, 1983 when it was stolen. Pele appealed for it to be returned for the sake of the soul of Brazilian football. It never was. No-one knows if it remains in someone's private collection or if was melted down for the gold. The Brazilians now only have a replica.

FIFA's reaction was to improve security. World Cup winners must hand the trophy back and are given a replica to keep. Three-time winners are no longer allowed to keep it for good. FIFA often substitutes copies at a whim.

A carelessly discarded cigarette lead to the only World Cup Final replay ever. On May 11, 1985 Bradford City's stadium was burned to the ground after a fire started from a tossed cigarette butt. A large crowd was in to celebrate Bradford's success in winning the Third Division. 56 people died.

The Bradford City Disaster Fund was quickly established. Leeds United lent Bradford the use of Elland Road while their stadium was closed. To raise funds England and Germany staged a replay of the 1966 Final on July 28, 1985. The players were 20 years older but still very recognisable. They raised £46,000 for the Disaster Fund.

And the score? England improved on their 1966 effort by winning 6-4. Geoff Hurst, still the only man with a World Cup Final hat-trick, again put away three. When quizzed about it: "Showing the Germans the action replay was all in a good cause".

Club vs Country has long been a dilemma for the elite player. But Danish striker, Soren Lerby has a unique record in this regard. He played for Denmark against Ireland in a must-win game for Denmark to ensure they finished top of their qualifying group. With the Danes up 3-1 at half-time he was substituted, boarded a private jet laid on by his German club Bayern Munich. He arrived home just in time to come on a substitute at half-time in a 1-1 draw in a third-round cup tie. Bayern won the replay and went on to win the cup. Lerby is the only player to play in a World Cup match for his country and a club match in two different countries on the same day.

It's impossible to cover WC 1986 without mentioning the quarter-final between England and Argentina. Bearing in mind the "animals" of the 1966 quarter-final and the fact this was the first time the two countries had met since the Falklands war, this was always going to be a special game. Diego Maradona scored two goals in five minutes that have gone down in history. The first was the infamous Hand of God goal, the second a mazing run that culminated in what has been voted the greatest WC Finals goal of all time. And doesn't that just sum up Argentina? Incredible ability mixed with the deceit and win-at-all-costs mentality.


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